वैशाली की आम्रपाली


मैं एक साधारण सी कन्या, एक सामान्य सा जीवन चाहती थी,
परंतु वैशालीनरेश मनुदेव के वासना की वेदी पर मेरे प्रेम की बली चढ़ाई गई।
मनुदेव की वासना पूरी करती, मैं बनी नगरवधु,
नगरवधु समझते हैं? वैशाली के प्रत्येक पुरुष की वधु।
कारण? वैशाली गणतंत्र था – जो वैशालीनरेश की, वह वैशाली की, एवं प्रत्येक वैशालीवासी की।
मैं आम्रपाली, साधारण सी कन्या, वैशाली की आम्रपाली बन गयी…
यहाँ के पुरुष जाति में मुझे पाने की एक भयानक सी विक्षिप्तता थी,
पौरुष का उन्माद कुछ ऐसा था, की ना पुरुष बचते, ना वैशाली।
मेरे वैशाली की अखंडता को सुरक्षित रखने के लिए मैं जनपद कल्याणी बनायी गयी,
काम वही था, बस एक सान्त्वना थी की मैं अपना साथी खुद चुनती।
आए मगधनरेश बिम्बिसार, एक संगीतकार के भेष में,
मैं उनके प्रेम की वश में आई ही थी कि मुझे उनका असल स्वरुप ज्ञात हुआ।
वे मुझे बनाना चाहते थे मगध की महारानी…
विडम्बना यह थी कि वैशाली एवं मगध के युद्ध में कोई ना बचता, यदि वैशाली की आम्रपाली मान जाती,
वैशाली को सुरक्षित रखने के लिए, आम्रपाली को अपने प्रेम की बली चढ़ानी पड़ी।
फिर आए अजातशत्रु, बिम्बिसार के पुत्र एवं उनके पश्चात मगधनरेश,
मेरे सौन्दर्य की आसक्ति उन्हें वैशाली की ओर खींच लाई,
वैशाली ने अपने आम्रपाली को बाँटने से मना कर दिया,
एवं अजातशत्रु की कामाग्नि में जल कर राख हो गया।
जिस वैशाली के लिए मैंने अपने शरीर को तपा दिया था,
वह वैशाली ना रहा… आम्रपाली का वैशाली ना रहा…
दुखी और असहाय मैं, लगा मुझे कहीं से एक सहारा मिल गया,
जब मैंने एक बौद्ध भिक्षु से प्रेम का निवेदन किया।
जिस आम्रपाली का सौन्दर्य किसी भी पुरुष को मोहित कर देता,
वह सौन्दर्य एक भिक्षु के आगे हार गया…
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली उस भिक्षु के पीछे चली व चलती गई,
उस भिक्षु को मैं अपने प्रेम में बाँध ना पाई,
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली स्वयं भिक्षुणी बन गई।
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली…

Well, this is the story of Amrapali! An infant Amrapali was found under a mango tree and hence the name (Amra in Sanskrit means mango). Thanks to the twists and turns of fate, Amrapali, a simple girl, was made the “Nagarvadhu” (bride of the whole city) of Vaishali, and then went on to become the “Janapada Kalyani” (most talented woman of the realm), and at the end became a nun and one of the most prominent women disciples of Buddha himself. While she lived in opulence, she became sick and tired of being pursued for her enchanting beauty, and realised that worldly desires bring only sorrow. She renounced all desires at the end.

I had heard of Amrapali, but it was only after seeing her figurine on the eastern gate of Sanchi (see photo), that I began my research on her. This figurine of Amrapali challenges our current social beliefs, and appears to be nude. Not so soon! If you notice closely, she is shown wearing a body hugging garment made of satin. Even I didn’t believe it, till my guide took me to the back side of the figurine and pointed out the folds in the garment, which were more prominent at the back. Such were the master sculptors. No wonder, Sanchi proudly bears the tag of a “World Heritage Site” for its exquisitely carved gates on all four sides.

Wait! How am I convinced that she is Amrapali, apart from my guide telling me so? Internet tells us that she is Shalabhanjika, a Yakshi. But no! If she was indeed Shalabhanjika, as the name suggests she would be seen with a shal tree and not with a mango tree, as is in this case. Mango means Amra, and hence Amrapali. Simple!

Coming back to the story of Amrapali before she became a nun, as it turns out, Bimbisara, the then Emperor of Magadh (present day Bihar) and later his son Ajaatshatru (who went on to arrest his father and capture the throne of Magadh for himself), were among many suitors of Amrapali. Both Bimbisara and Ajaatshatru were unquestionably amongst the most powerful men of India of that time. Not undermining the trauma she must have gone through earlier as the bride of Vaishali, in due course Amrapali had garnered enough audacity, power and voice to say no to even Emperors. Talk of women empowerment!

In course of my research, I found out that the timeline was 6th-5th century BC. I learned, as hard as it is to believe, Vajji Mahajanapada, of which Vaishali was the capital, was a democratic republic of sorts. That was more than 2,500 years ago. Point to be noted here is, Alexander the Great and other Greeks would arrive in India only two centuries later. So, a democratic republic of sorts not only existed, but also flourished in India, even before the Greeks arrived. However, Greece is considered as the origin of democracy. Interesting, isn’t it?

Will you agree, it is enough of history lessons for one post? I bet you will! And I promise to cover Sanchi in detail, in one of my later posts.

Until then!

Credits: Hindi “Bonds”, who also happen to be my good friends, helped me in proof reading the Hindi poem “Vaishali ki Amrapali”. Not formally trained in Hindi, I had committed many mistakes in the first draft and they helped me fix them – Tulika Poddar, Sonam Chamaria, Aradhana Singh and Pallavi Jain.

In frame: Eastern gate, Stupa no. 1, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

Note: Please get in touch if you have difficulty in reading Hindi, and would prefer an English translation of the poem instead.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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